(L) Ipswich Mayor 2022–2023, Councillor John Cooke. (R) Sayed Muslimyan
Today, 20th June is World Refugee Day. Sayed Muslimyan is the Office Manager at Suffolk Law Centre and a refugee from Afghanistan. In July 2021, when international coalition forces withdrew and the Afghan government fell, he was forced to leave his home there with his wife and four children. We spoke to Sayed about his journey.
What was your life like in Afghanistan?
“I worked with various international organisations in Afghanistan, including as a political assistant for the United Nations and as a translator and interpreter for the United States Army. Later, I worked as the English Programmes Project Manager for the British Council. Based in the British Embassy compound, I was involved in managing English language Learning centres across 15 provinces and 8 ministries. I had been optimistic about the future of the country.”
What was your journey to the UK like?
“The withdrawal of the international coalition forces from Afghanistan meant my life and that of my family was no longer secure, with my work making me a potential target for the Taliban. I was eligible for the UK government’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), so I applied, and my family and I were granted UK visas whilst still in Afghanistan. In July 2021, we flew to Birmingham and, eventually, we were relocated to Ipswich, where we have remained since. We accessed services from charities including Suffolk Refugee Support, who helped register my family and me with a GP and supported us with housing and employment.
“I started my employment as an Administrative Officer at Suffolk Law Centre in February 2022, and I was really optimistic. Being in a new context and culture, you have your worries and your fears and you need to adjust. Having a lot of professional, experienced and kind-hearted people around me really helped. I was able to settle in very quickly because of that, which I was not anticipating when I first arrived in the UK. People across the Law Centre welcomed my comments and my ideas. I found that it is a reputable organisation where you are valued for your hard work and that nothing you do goes uncounted.
“In April this year, I was promoted to Office Manager, working across both Suffolk Law Centre and the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality.”
What was the most difficult part about leaving Afghanistan?
“The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. When I was there, we had a government that was supported by the people and there was freedom for women and girls. Now everything has changed; the country is at the hands of a terrorist group.
“Women and girls are not able to gain an education and the population has been stripped of its human rights. My sister studied hard for 12 years in school, and when she graduated, she attended a competitive Afghan university entrance exam and secured her place at the Faculty of Pharmacy. Now the Taliban has put a stop to all of this; it has ruined her dream and her hard work has gone to nothing.
“Two of my brothers worked with international organisations in Afghanistan, one for a charity. They were able to make their way to Germany. It wasn’t the same for my parents, my sister and my other brother. They want to leave but there is no option for them."
What are the most important things that would improve the move to a new country?
“When you are in a new context and culture you need to be engaged a lot. You spend a lot of time at home because you have no connections with the outside world. This is the case for my wife because she has language barriers. It was easier for me because I am able to communicate with people in English.
“There should be community programmes where you can learn about culture and cultural norms. For kids, access to libraries and sports teams or other activities where they can connect with each other, and where they can find common situations and similarities is what’s needed... It would be good for them to be integrated with British kids so that experiences can be shared.
“I’m pleased that my children are part of a good education system. Some of my children had language barriers when they came to the UK, but now they speak English fluently. I’m really happy for them and I hope that the lives of our children can be better than ours.”
The Law Centres Network is part of two campaigns rooted in our experience that seek to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. The Families Together coalition campaigns for better family reunion rules. Currently, child refugees have no right to sponsor their immediate family members to join them.
Sayed got his refugee status before he came to the UK and could work for a living from the start. Other asylum seekers are not so lucky: they can spend years nearly destitute, surviving only on inadequate Asylum Support payments. Lift the Ban is a coalition calling on the government to give asylum seekers the right to work during their asylum claim.
The UK can and should do more to support people fleeing war and persecution. The government should establish safe and legal routes to the UK and spare asylum seekers needless social exclusion.
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